For a time, we’re going to just set aside our study of Matthew and Daniel, because there are some things I feel I need to say. I guess it’s kind of like family meeting time at Grace Church. And we’re glad for all those who are here, but if you’ve come to hear a normal sermon, this won’t be one. Maybe more sermons ought to be like this it’s going to be; I don't know. But there are just some things that we need to say, some things we need to deal with, some concerns in my heart. I can’t carry my burdens alone. When things are on my heart and they stay on my heart, I feel like I need to share them with you so that you can carry them with me and together we can see God glorified. I feel that in my own home as a father that there are times when I have to reaffirm to my family the standards that we live by, because as I’ve noticed in my own life and the lives of everybody around me we tend to drift to the lowest-possible point. And we constantly have to be forced back to the standard.
I know we have to say to our children from time to time, “Now you know better than that, we don’t do that. You know what the standards are.” But they need to be reaffirmed because the drift of sinfulness, which is a part of the flesh, is to always go to the lowest-possible point tolerated. You know when you raise your children they’ll go just as far as you allow them; that’s just the way human nature is. And I feel in a real sense that’s the way a church is too, that we must constantly be reaffirming the standards, because we forget; we forget. We forget the very basic things we know to be true, and we drift unless we’re reminded over and over again. Peter said, “I cease not to put you in remembrance.” He knew they forgot. He said, “In fact, I’ve said these things so often for the reason that when I put off this tabernacle shortly, you will still remember them.”
I think we need to be reminded at Grace Church of some basic things that have slipped or are in danger of slipping. As we approach 1980, we’re going to see some interesting things happen in our country. A man who is high up in the military in America made the statement recently that by 1982 we will either be out of existence or we will be exchanging Russian rubles. I don't know whether that’s true, but from the man who said it, it’s a very shocking statement, because he said America is doomed. I don't know whether that’s true or now, but there are certainly signs that we’ve abandoned our standards as they once were affirmed when this country was built on the things of God; there is no question about that. And sadly, as the country has slid, so has the church, and the church is liberal, compromising, uncommitted, worldly, indulgent, materialistic, and so forth. And the church has drifted into all kinds of unholy and unhealthy alliances, preoccupations with things that are not the priority.
And so now we are standing on the threshold of a year where it is very reasonable to assume that the state might take certain powers against the church. There are six churches now in the state of California that have been taken over by the state; all of them are evangelical, because of failure to comply with some state order. Zoning regulations are encroaching upon the church. Attorneys general across the country are moving in litigation against religious institutions. There’s a big, big discussion now about what is permissible constitutionally under the name of religion. And so it is very reasonable to assume that the church may find itself a victim of many things. We have faced the fact that even in the zoning regulations they are deciding now whether to shut down all home Bible studies. And we’ve shared this with you.
But saying all of that, what the government does, what the state does that’s not really what threatens Grace Church. Grace Church can never be destroyed by the IRS or the state of California or the United States government or some attorney general or some litigation or some suit or some attorneys or some court or some judge. If Grace Church is to be destroyed, it’ll be destroyed by the people who are Grace Church. The enemy is us, frankly. And so it is that we must be warned, because we need restraints on our behavior. I thank God that I grew up in a family where my parents put restraints on me, where they said, “That is not permissible behavior,” and I paid the price. Broken coat hangers abounded in our house. And I one time did something very bad. My father was frustrated with me because I was always living on that thin edge of the borderline of what was tolerable, and so he said, “Get in the car, I’m taking you to the reform school.” And he was dead serious, and so he put me in the car and we drove to the reform school. And I knew where the reform school was, because we had passed it on other occasions, and I knew we were going there. And he got there and he drove inside the gates, and by that time I was a wreck. I was about nine years old. And he said, “Do you want to live here?” And then I was sobbing, I said, “Daddy, I don’t want to live here. I want to go home. I’ll never do that again.” You know something? I never did that again; I did other stuff, but I never did that again. And my father turned around and took me home, and he put restraint on my behavior that way because he warned me.
I thank God for a wife and children who put restraint on my behavior because what they expect of me is obvious to me. I thank God for dear friends and copastors and elders who put restraint on my behavior because of their expectation of me. You see, we because we are sinners tend to always be descending to the lowest-tolerable point; it’s just in us. And so we must constantly be made aware of the fact that we stand warned against that. The Old Testament said that man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward. In other words, it is inevitable that man finds trouble. In John 16 our Lord said in the New Testament, “In this world you shall have trouble.” Because man is sinful, he faces the reality of trouble. People say to me, “Well you know Grace Church isn’t perfect.” Folks, that’s no revelation; I know that. Well Grace Church has problems and Grace Church has faults, I know that. You know why? Because everybody in Grace Church has problems, because we’re all sinful people.
Somebody said to me, “Well Grace Church doesn’t always live up to what it proclaims.” I said, “Right, very true.” You want to know something, to be real honest with you? I have to preach a better message than I can live; that’s right, because I have to preach this, right? And this is perfect, God's standard. And I don’t always live up to it. Grace Church isn’t perfect, because you’re not perfect and I’m not either. And if you are perfect, by the way, and you’re keeping it a secret, it’s useless because we would’ve known that you were perfect by now if you really were. “There is none righteous, no not one.” We know we’re dealing with sinful people, and because we are sinful people, and because we are born to trouble, and because it is inevitable that we are going to descend to the lowest-allowable limit sometime, we must put restraints on our behavior. We must reaffirm the things that we are committed to. We cannot allow for a drift. We cannot allow for a slide. We cannot get soft on certain matters.
And I guess I’m saying all this to let you know that what I feel responsible to do today is to warn you. On February 9th of this year I will have been at Grace Church – oh that will be my eleventh anniversary and I’ll start the twelfth year. If I faced the onslaughts of Satan that I face now in this church when I first came here, I wouldn’t be here now. I wouldn’t be ready for those then. But I can tell you after 11 years of being here that I have never seen Satan work as hard as he’s worked in the last six months in this church, never. And I thank God that we’ve seen victory, and I thank God that we’re going ahead and growing and God is blessing in a wonderful way. But at the same time, I have never been more aware of Satan. In the last couple of weeks it seemed to me like there was a literal pall over this place; it seemed to me Satan was working so hard overtime.
And finally, the Lord just kind of showed me in my heart, “John, what you need to do is not carry this thing alone, but you need to tell the people where the problems are coming from.” And so that’s what I have in my heart to do. Now I’m going to start it this morning and then I don’t know what I’m going to say a whole lot, because I have some basic points down on paper and I’m just going to say what is in my heart to say. And by the way, I had 12 or 13 points, I finished one in the first service, so. So there are a few to go. What I don’t finish this morning I’ll do tonight, and what I don’t finish tonight I’ll do next Sunday morning, and if I don’t finish then I’ll do it next Sunday night. I’ll keep going ‘til we’re done. But because I really don’t know just how much to share, I’m trusting God to lead me. So as I said, if you came this morning to hear a perfect homiletical sermon, you didn’t come to the right place. But there are some things I need to say.
The Bible is filled with warnings, people; it’s just filled with warnings. Over and over again in the Old Testament the prophets of God warned the people. You know some prophets spent their whole life doing just about that and nothing else. Just warning, warning, warning, warning, warning people. Moses again and again warned the people. And you go into Elijah and Elisha warned the people about their behavior before God, and all of the prophets have done that. Jeremiah constantly did that. Isaiah did it, the first half of his book is that. So over and over again God has called his people to restraint. God has said, “This is the standard. This is how you are to live, and nothing else is acceptable. This is what you strive for.” And when you come to the New Testament, nothing really changes, Jesus warned the people over and over. Paul warns people constantly in his epistles. James did it. Peter did it. Jude did it. John did it. You see it is part and parcel of a ministry to warn, and I have to say that I’ve never seen God bless any group of people more than he’s blessed this church. In fact, I think some of us have forgotten how blessed we are because we have nothing to compare it with. But I grew up in churches because my father was a pastor and we were in different churches, and I’ve seen a lot of churches. And then for several years I traveled for three years across the country and preached an average of 30, 35 time a month in churches all over America. And since I came to Grace in the 11 years I’ve been here, I’ve preached all over this country and in other Christians, and I’ve seen churches and churches and churches, and I’ll be very honest with you I’ve never seen one God blessed more than he blessed this one, and I don't know why. I mean we didn’t have any big master plan. We didn’t have any great big thing we were trying to pull off here; this is God's thing.
In Psalm 127 I was reading it this morning, it came to mind. It says that “Accept the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it.” And I can honestly say in my heart I believe God has built this house; he’s built this church. And it’s because I know it isn’t me. I mean I know that, because I don't know how to do this. I see myself only as one who teaches the Word of God. The growing of a church is his business. But I see with God's tremendous outpouring of blessing I see almost a parallel effort in Satan to stop it. If we are the most, beloved, then we will be the most oppressed by the enemy. Satan wants to destroy Grace Church. And the best way to do it he knows is from inside, by corrupting our principles, by stealing away the absolutes on which this church has been built. And that’s the thing that concerns me, and that’s why I feel in my heart I need to warn you. God said in Jeremiah 6:10, “I speak and I give warning,” and that is the character of God to do that. This doesn’t mean that we’re on the verge of a gigantic collapse, although people have said that. “I hear Grace Church is falling apart.” I’ve gotten letters people say, “I hear your church is falling apart.” I say, “If this is falling apart, I wonder what success looks like.” I’ve had people say, “I hear you’re leaving the ministry.” People call me on the phone and say, “Is it true you’re leaving Grace Church?” Well I am going home for dinner at five o’clock but I haven’t any other plans.
We’ve had all kinds of things that have been said about what’s happening at Grace Church. And so God says, “I speak and give warning,” and I think we need to be warned and I do too. And I went through these things in my own heart in the last couple weeks, and I just felt strongly to share them with you. You see Scripture is filled with road signs to halt the descent of man, because that’s the way he tends to go. Even God's people tend to drift into spiritual wastelands. They need to be warned. I think about Peter’s epistle, 1 Peter. You know he gets to talking about how they’re to live and they’re to be holy. He says and they’re to live the way God wants them to live and they’re to feed on the Word of God as babes desire milk, and they’re to know they’re a royal priesthood. And then he talks about the fact that they’re to be subject to the powers that be and to pray for their leaders, and they’re to lead a blameless life. And they’re, if need be, persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And then he goes on and he gives all these virtuous things, and boy they’re to be able to give to a man an answer for the hope that is within them. And they’re to live like this and like this, and he gives all the keys to the success of the Christian life. And then when he gets all done, he gets toward the end of the fifth chapter, and having all the things about the spiritual gifts and the return of the Lord that’s implied and all of it laid out he says, “And remember this, your enemy the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”
In other words, you’ll never find it easy, because there will be resistance. James does the same thing. James starts out talking about how we are to be able to take tribulation and trial and to turn it into growth. And he goes into how we are to live and how we are to have attitudes that are loving toward everybody whether they’re rich or poor. He talks about how our faith is to be made manifest in the things we do. He talks about how we’re to control our tongues and how we are to live in this world and on and on. And then finally he says, “And by the way, resist the devil and he’ll flee from you,” assuming that we’re going to have opposition all the way along the line.
And when you come to the book of Ephesians, the tremendous magnificence of that book, it starts out that we are blessed with all the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ. And then he goes through all of the glorious peon of praise, the longest sentence in the Bible, verses 3 to 14, talks about everything we have in Christ, our salvation, our oneness in the body of Christ, our spiritual gifts, our callings, our ministries. He goes into our families, our marriages, our employment situations, and he says, “This is the way it is to be,” and it’s all energized by the filling of the Spirit. And then he says, “And by the way, put on the whole armor of God because we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, powers, the rules of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies.”
You see the assumption is that where there is spiritual life there is antagonism, and so we need to be warned. And that’s why the Bible constantly warns us. The greater the influence for God, the stiffer the opposition. I’ve never felt it in my life like I’ve felt it in the last couple of months. Just amazing the way Satan is pressuring us. In so many little things, you see incidents here and incidents there. And as you begin to put them together, it’s a wholesale assault. You know nothing would make Satan happier than to see Grace Church just kind of fade. This is a great testimony in the community. In fact, the world is looking at this church. It’s staggering. I don't know how this ever happened other than God's sovereignty. There’s never a day goes by that pastors aren’t here from around the world seeing how God is working in this place. Nothing could be a greater disaster in my mind than this church to be destroyed. And it shouldn’t have anything to do with whether I’m here or not. This is not an entertainment center with John MacArthur playing at 8:30, 10:15, and 6:30. This is a church. And so, no matter what would happen to me, this church should maintain its witness for its glory of God in the world, but it can’t unless it upholds the standards upon which it’s built. And that involves warning us from time to time. Maybe I don’t warn you enough. In Colossians 1, Paul says that my ministry is involved in warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that I may present every man perfect in Christ. He says, “I warn everybody, I warn everybody.” In Acts chapter 20, verses 29, 30, and 31, Paul is talking to the Ephesian elders and he says, “I’m going to leave. I’m going to be gone. I just want to tell you this. I know this. It’s not a guess, I know this,” he says. “After my departing, grievous wolves shall enter in not sparing the flock.” Well how do you know that? Because I know the enemy, and the enemy brings in wolves to tear the sheep apart. He sows tears among the wheat, birds in the mustard tree, if you will. He applies all of his forces to the places where God's work is being done.
I’ve had the privilege in the last couple of years to know some of the wonderful men that God has used in other churches and Christian institutions around America, and they say the same thing, “The greater the witness for God, the greater the potential impact, the greater the opposition.” I’m learning as I get a little older that this is how it is, and the burden here is to be carried not by me or by some elders or pastors, but the burden is to be carried by all the people. And the commitment to these principles that uphold God's standards. Paul says, “I know they’re come in.” They’re here, we have tears among the wheat at Grace Church. We don’t know who they are. Every once in a while, we unmask a false teacher and send him out; we’ve done that in the past, and we’ll continue to do it when we find someone who’s a grievous wolf. The word means strong, ferocious, fierce. We find somebody like that messing up the sheep, we’ll do everything we can to get rid of him. Jude wrote about that, he says, “You’re going to find blemishes on your love feasts, spots, scabs, filth scabs, filthy dreamers, wells without water, empty clouds,” he calls them. And they’re going to try to infiltrate and corrupt the church, and that’s very true; that does happen. And so, we have to be warned about that. Grievous wolves coming in from the outside.
But would you notice Acts 20, verse 30, because this pulls it a little bit more closely to home. “Also, in addition to coming in from the outside and becoming apart, of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them.” How interesting it is to me that you not only have people who are new and they come in from the outside and you find out they’re teaching heresy or they don’t believe the Gospel or they destroy. I’ll never forget a prostitute who came to our church and was soliciting in our church and feigning to be a Christian and soliciting among the college young men appointments for her prostitution business. But you not only have those kinds of people coming in from the outside but you have of your own selves people who have been grown in your own ministry, people who have arisen in your own ministry, people who have been a part of your ministry who begin to speak things that are perverse from the mainstream and their desire is to draw people away to become their own disciples.
And so, there is this tearing of the sheep and this fracturing of the fellowship that goes on in the assembly and Paul says, “I know this will happen. I know it will.” “Therefore,” verse 31, “Therefore.” Now here comes a remedy, “Watch.” Now stop right there. “Keep your eyes open. Be alert. Be vigilant. Be aware. Be sensitized. Don’t let it happen. Watch, and remember that for the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears,” he says. Now this is a man who’s got his emotion involved. This man is intense. With tears streaming down his face he says, “For three years I said that you are to be warned that this is going to happen.” Now we can get so smug that we don’t think everything’s going to change. No, we just kind of think it’ll all go along like it’s always gone along. Don’t you kid yourself. Vigilance. Watch. Be alert. We need to be warned, people, because I believe Satan is working at my experience harder than he has ever worked.
I’ll tell you personally and I’ll just give you this as an illustration from my own life. I have never been so attacked as I have recently. Never. Now I know I have failures and I don’t mind people pointing those out, but I have been attacked for things that aren’t even true; they aren’t even the case. That’s very difficult to deal with. I’m not here to defend myself; God is my defender. And even when I know nothing against myself, 1 Corinthians 4, “Here in am I not justified. It is God that judges me.” So I’m not justifying myself; I’m just saying that the attack is really on. And you know where we stand for something and we preach the message and we affirm the truth and we believe the truth, we get attacked. And then personal things, personal attacks on your credibility, your integrity, whatever, whatever. Satan’s really working hard, and I know he’s sowing things into the congregation. I know he’s wanting to bring people in. I know he’s wanting to pervert people that have been here to draw away disciples unto themselves. And so I have to accept Paul’s admonition in verse 31 and say I’m going to warn you. And I know about the night and day with tears more recently, because the burden my own heart has carried. But I stand here today to warn you, and if I can’t finish today and tonight I’m going to keep warning you next week until I get done, because I care too much about this church. Not because it’s my church, kit isn’t my church; it’s his church. And in verse 28 of this same 20th chapter it says he purchased it with his own blood. And if it’s that precious to him, then it’s got to be that precious to us, right? And so we must be warned, people. We must be warned, because we are under attack.
You know when I first came to Grace Church – this is just a personal word – it was really exciting to me and it was like a honeymoon. Oh, you know people would come and listen to me preach and I thought that was great; I always wanted to talk anyway and now I had an audience. And they’d come every week and they’d say, “Oh that was wonderful, pastor.” You know and that’s a terrific joy, see. And people would say, “Oh you know my life was changed and the Word is making a difference.” And you know you get kind of euphoric. You know you’re saying boy, you know this is really great. You know this is wonderful, and it is. And so I used to think of the ministry as a honeymoon. And then after about four or five years, you know I said to myself someday, “You know this isn’t like a honeymoon anymore; this is a lot of work.” I mean I have to go in there and I tell them everything I know on Sunday and a whole lot of stuff I probably don’t know, just filling up space.
But anyway, I tell them everything I know and I start off on Monday blank again. And the temptation is now I’ve got 800 sermons I’ve done here. Boy, I can go to another church and preach for 11 years and not do anything. I could cultivate my backswing; I could do all kinds of stuff. But you know for a while I thought, “This is work and I have to work and draw these things out of the Scripture and work,” because now I had learned the basics and now I had to figure out new ways to say them to you. And so it became work. And then a couple of years ago I said to myself, “This isn’t a honeymoon and this isn’t work. This is war,” because I began to feel the power of the enemy, and I began to look at people who had come to Grace Church and year after year and they never seemed to change. You know they’d come with their thimble, fill it up, and dump it on the steps going out, and nothing ever changed. Never seemed to make a difference, and I could see there was a spiritual battle. And I’d watch as families would have struggles and people’s lives would fall apart, and people I put confidence in sort of just faded and I couldn’t understand it until I realized the warfare. God has blessed this church, but this church isn’t so blessed that it doesn’t need to be warned, because it is just at the point you think you stand that you better take heed, what? “Lest ye fall.” We can be a spiritual humpty-dumpty real fast.
Now we’ve never changed our basic commitment, but Satan has come at us in recent days as never before. I just have felt his presence just pressure, and I was thinking the other day. I opened my Bible and I was thinking about the church at Ephesus, a greater church than this with greater men as leaders. Their leaders were Apollos, Paul, and Timothy. And Jesus said to them in Revelation 2, “You have left your first love, and if you don’t repent and do the first works and get back to the basics and go back to the commitment you made in the beginning, I will blow out your candle.” You know what? They didn’t repent and God blew out the candle in that great church with its great beginnings was no more. That’s a fearful thing, fearful thing.
So I want us to go back to the basics just for today and maybe next week. Four-and-a-half years ago – now I’m going to tell you what I’m going to tell you. Four-and-a-half years ago I preached two messages at Grace Church over in the gym when we were meeting there as an auditorium. I titled them the Marks of an Effective Church. Some of you might remember them. You may remember the title but not the points. The Marks of an Effective Church. And at that time my heart was really, really concerned that I felt that this dozen or so, I think I gave you 12 or 13 of them, that these dozen or so principles marked an effective church. And if we could just move in those directions, God would bless us. And so some of those we had already been doing them but never really identified them. Then four-and-a-half years ago we identified those principles, and in the last four-and-a-half years as we have moved into those areas we have seen God multiply this ministry beyond our wildest dreams. Not only here but all around the world in radio and tapes and books and whatever. And all because we focused on those areas.
The other day I took out my notes on that from four-and-a-half years ago and I was looking over those areas as I was thinking about what was going on and what was Satan doing to our church. And as I was going through those notes, I began to realize that every one of those points was receiving a direct attack from Satan, that he was hitting us at the basis of our commitment, that all of those areas were the areas where he was trying to strike a fatal blow. Now if you want to destroy Grace Church, I determine, then all you’d have to do would be to take away those basic commitments, and it would be done. That would do it, because those dozen or so things were the necessary ingredients for a God-blessed church. And as I began to look at it, it actually made me shake, because I could see Satan hitting every one of them. And so I just felt impressed in my heart to go back over those same dozen or so things and reaffirm them to you, because if Grace Church is to be destroyed, it isn’t going to be the state of California, the United States government, the IRS or anybody else. It isn’t going to be the Russians or anything; they could drive us out of the building, but they’re not going to destroy the church of Jesus Christ. If anything is to destroy our testimony and suck the life blood out of us, it’s going to be that we fail at the basis of our commitment.
And so I want to share with you these things, especially as we go into the next year, which may be the greatest adventure yet. Let me begin at the beginning and I’ll just share one of them with you this morning, and then the next 12 tonight and following. And this is a key one. The first principle that I shared with you four-and-a-half years ago upon which I feel this church is built is a principle that is being attacked constantly. It is this, a plurality of Godly leaders, a plurality of Godly leaders. I believe in my heart that a church in order to be the functioning body of Christ must have a plurality of Godly men leading it. I believe that. And that is being attacked today. It’s being attacked on a broad scale. I see churches everywhere that put men into positions of leadership who are not spiritually qualified but who have money or power in the community or personal charm or whatever. I see denominations now saying that churches are mandated to have women elders to balance off the sexual imbalance. And the pressure is on the church on a large structural organizational scale from pressure groups like ERA and who knows what else and the world to make the church be run like a business to put the wrong people in leadership. But the Bible says the church is to be led by a plurality of Godly men, and it’s plain and simple; that’s what Scripture says.
People say, “Well don’t you believe in woman elder?” No. How can a woman be the husband of one wife? How can a woman rule her own household well? It’s talking about men, Godly men. The church is dependent on spiritual leadership. Now get this now, Christ is the head of the church, right? Christ is the head of the church, that’s all. Christ is the head of the church. Not me, not some men. Christ. But Christ mediates his rule through a plurality of Godly men. Doesn’t mean that women don’t have a place. Oh they do and they lead other women and they lead children and they have marvelous service to render to the church. That’s all outlined clearly in the pastoral epistles, wonderfully so. And they assist the apostles. Think of all the women in Romans 16 who assisted the apostles in their marvelous work. In the Old Testament, the Psalms say a great host of the women published the good news. They have a marvelous place, but the leadership of the church is mediated through Christ through Godly men, a plurality of Godly men. And I don’t believe you can bypass this and get the blessing of God. I’ve seen churches collapse because they did not have Godly leadership, because they did not have a plurality of Godly men who walked in the Spirit and in the power of the presence of Jesus Christ who are calling the direction of the church. And it disintegrates when they become self-seeking or when they fall into sin or when they try to run the church with business principles rather than the Word of God.
Listen, Christ wants to rule through these men. All through God's history God is mediating his rule through men. In the Old Testament, it was the patriarchs. And then it’s the prophets and then the priests and then the kings. And you come to the New Testament and he mediates his rule on earth through Christ, and then by his Holy Spirit indwelling the believer. He rules in the world through the believer, and in the church it’s through the elders that are called to the rulership of the church. The church will never be able to be what God wants it to be unless there’s a plurality of Godly elders who are true elders in the truest sense of the word who are truly commited to what an elder is to be, whose families, their wives and their children are absolutely committed to what Christ wants them to be. And I’m telling you that’s under attack all the time. The pressure is on very oft to put a man into an elder position because you feel the pressure to do so for whatever reason who doesn’t belong there, or for a person to be in a position of leadership whose life isn’t right or his family isn’t right. The pressure is on to respond to somebody who is self-seeking, who wants to be predominant, who wants preeminence like Diotrephes, and he wants to reach that place. And there’s this constant vigilance that we protect the sanctity and the sacredness of that office.
These men are the overseers. They are the pastors. They are the elders of the church who lead the church. In Acts chapter 20, for example, in verse 17 it says that he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church. And I might add that that word is always plural, always plural in the New Testament, except in two cases. Second John and Third John where it refers to the elder John, just referring to one of the elders. But wherever you see a church, you see a plurality of Godly men. The church is never to be run by one man. Now the differing gifts may mean that one man teaches. People say, “Well if the church is to be a plurality of Godly elders, what are you doing preaching all the time?” Well we all have different gifts and this is the gift in the ministry God has called me to. When Paul and Barnabas traveled, they said Paul was the chief speaker; that’s not a problem. When Peter and John were together, Peter preached, and there’s not one time in the whole book of Acts that John ever preached. They’re differing gifts and differing ministries and callings. But the plurality of Godly men lead the church, and so he says to the elders in verse 28, “You take heed, first to yourselves and then to the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” In other words, you elders are the overseers. You have been ordained as such by the Spirit of God. And first you take care of your own life and then you take care of the flock. And boy, Satan works hard to corrupt that.
You say, “How does he corrupt that?” Well first of all by getting men into positions who are unqualified. Satan would love to have the church be led by unqualified people, people who are nice people, maybe they’re even Christian people, but they don’t have the life that stands up to the qualifications. Look with me at 1 Timothy chapter 3, and I’m just going to be brief on this 'cause you know these things. But in 1 Timothy chapter 3, it says, “If a man desires the office of an overseer or a pastor, an elder,” – it’s all the same thing. Bishop, pastor, elder all refer to the same thing. “If he desires this, he desires a good thing.” But that’s not all, you say, “Well just because he desires it should he be an elder?” No. No. A bishop or elder must be blameless. Now that’s a high standard, wouldn’t you say? Blameless. And then he goes on to define what that means, “A one-woman man, a man absolutely in love with and committed to his wife, temperate.” That’s moderate. “Sober-minded.” That means a man who understands priorities in life. “Good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach.” That is he has a facility for communication of the things of God. “Not given to wine.” Doesn’t drink alcohol. “Not violent, not greedy of filthy lucre, money, but patient, not a brawler, not covetous, and one that rules well his own house.” Why? Because he is a ruler in the church. Don’t ever forget it, elders rule the church and they have to rule their house well, having all the children submissive with seriousness, for if they don’t know how to rule their house, how are they ever going to be able to rule the church of God. And then not a novice or a recent convert because they are often lifted up with pride and fall into the condemnation of the devil. They must have a good report of them that are outside, lest they fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Then he goes on to talk about the deacons, and their qualifications are very much the same. Did you notice none of them have to do with your bank book, your education, your personality, all with your spiritual life, all with your spiritual character. God will rule the church himself if he just has clear channels through which to do it. That’s all. So that spirituality is the key, the sine qua non of leadership in the church. And whatever else may come of giftedness is but an addition to that.
In Titus chapter 1 we find another affirmation of these principles. It amazes me that the Bible doesn’t always repeat things, but this it does in detail because of its urgency. Ordaining elders in every city this is how they are to be characterized, verse 6 of Titus 1. “Be blameless, the husband of one wife,” or really in the Greek it says a one-woman man, a man completely in love with his wife. Faithful children, not accused of profligacy. This means believing children who share their father’s faith and aren’t characterized by ungodly conduct. When they’re at home, Paul said to Timothy, “they are to be in subjection. And when they grow up, they are to believing and sharing in the faith of their father, to prove that you are able to pass that faith on to them.” Verse 7, “They must be blameless, stewards of God, not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, not violent, not given to filthy lucre, lovers of hospitality, lovers of good, sober-minded, just, holy, temperate, holding fast the faithful word.”
Those are really amazing qualifications. It’s talking about a quality of life, and one thing I know Satan would love to do, and we have worked on this and struggled with this through the years, is to put the wrong people in leadership. Some of them good people, some of them fine people, but not qualified people in terms of biblical qualification. And that’s not fair to them or the church either. This is a great concern to us. Satan can do the most damage by corrupting the leadership, is that right? When one of the members runs off with somebody, the church doesn’t suffer as much as when the pastor does. When one who’s a leader in the church falls into moral evil, it is devastating on the church, devastating.
There’s a second point under this first one. Satan wants to destroy the Godly leadership of the church by infiltrating it with people who aren’t qualified. Secondly, by corrupting the people who are. There’s a constant battle at this point. We have people who are leaders in this church who are on the edge very often of a great problem of sin that could bring a spurseon on this church, and they’re being tempted strongly by Satan in such a way that could cause the collapse of this ministry in many people’s eyes. Satan wants to do that. Pastors don’t run off with their secretaries. People don’t fall into moral evil just as a matter of course. That’s Satan’s primary work to corrupt the leadership. And so not only does Satan want to infiltrate it with unqualified people, people who don’t live up to the standards, people who don’t really fill the office, though they could be wonderfully effective in other areas, but he wants to destroy the ones that are there. I would say that one of the greatest griefs of my whole life was watching one of the elders in the past, this has been five years ago at Grace Church, go through this kind of a moral sin. Heartbreaking. Shattering. And Satan won his battle, corrupted his life, drew him right into the public eye, and cast dispersions on the name of Christ. You see when it all is said and done, it isn’t we who suffer, it’s him, because it’s his church. And so, we want to be alerted to the fact that Satan works in this area.
There’s a third way, and that is by giving too much power to one man. And I fear this because I fear so many times that people expect too much of me or they give too much power to me, and this is something that I have to deal with before God, because the last thing I ever want to be is a Diotrephes. Third John 9, John says, “I wrote unto you, but Diotrephes who loves to have the preeminence,” and then he goes on to describe him. And it is apparent that before John wrote 3 John, he wrote another letter – the verb “I wrote” is past tense – that indicated some of the problems in the church. But Diotrephes never let the letter be read because he loved to have the preeminence, and he was ruling the roost, and he was prating around doing his thing it says in that passage. And he was not being hospitable and he was turning the brethren away, and he wouldn’t let anybody get near that church who threatened his power base. That’s another way where Satan corrupts what God has done, by getting a person in leadership who becomes the god to the whole system and dominates it.
And so, you have to be sure that as you call on leadership, you’re looking for people who are not self-willed or self-seeking or ambitious or power hungry but people who only want to serve as God has called and gifted them to serve in humility and faithfulness, because when you get someone who loves to have the preeminence and seeks the office for the glory of his own life, seeks the prominence, seeks the preeminence, then you get a corrupted situation. And Diotrephes had personal ambition. He wanted to be his own authority. He wanted to be the one who ruled everything. I’ve seen this in church after church after church. In fact, in recent months, there have been people who’ve come to me and said, “We’ve introduced to our pastor these principles of a plurality of eldership, and the pastor has said to us, ‘Get out of this church, I run this church.’” No, that’s not right. That’s not right at all. There’s always a plurality of Godly men.
I’ll tell you another way to corrupt the leadership at its leadership, and that is by allowing cliques to form under the leaders. “Well,” said the Corinthians, “I’m of Paul. Well I’m of Apollos. Well I’m of Cephas.” And then the real pious ones said, “I am of Christ.” And they fractured the whole fellowship lining up under different people and pitting them against one another, people who didn’t even want that. Paul didn’t want to be against Apollos and Cephas and Christ, believe me. Cliques can do that. And churches split all the time because some guy gets a little group and another little group and another little group, and they go at it. And you know what? Satan tempts very often to bring discord among the elders so that some elder says, “Well I don’t agree with this elder, I don’t agree with that elder,” and gets a little following over there, and then there’s a fracturing and a cliquedness. You know of all the wretchedness of the Corinthian church the biggest problem they had was that cliquishness. That’s the only problem in the book that took four chapters to deal with. This was their major problem.
Beloved, Satan would love to corrupt the leadership of this church. One, by getting the wrong people in. Two, by corrupting the lives of the people who are there. And he tempts them. If you think you’re tempted, you don’t probably know the intensity of temptation that one does who’s in spiritual leadership, because Satan works overtime to corrupt them there because that causes the fall of the whole thing. And I believe in my heart that one of the reasons that spiritual leaders must be in the Word of God is because we need a greater commitment to the Word of God, because we have greater issues at stake in our lives. That’s why James 3:1 says, “Stop being so many teachers. Theirs is the greater condemnation.” When you fall from leadership, you fall from the highest height and the price is the greatest. And I have seen Satan working in moral temptations in the leaders of this church. I have seen him working in the temptations to disrupt their family. I have seen them working in their wives’ lives to get their wives to become a rebuke to their ministries. I have seen all kinds of these things going on, and most pointedly in the last few months that just make me aware that Satan is working overtime on Grace Church.
You know what that also makes me realize? That he doesn’t like us, and I like that. I’m so glad he hates us. I’m so glad he’s upset at us. It also means he’s afraid of what we’re going to be, and that means we’re going to be something greater than even yet experienced. Now listen, we can also destroy leadership by lining up under certain people. “Well I don’t agree with this person.” And you know if there ever is a fracturing at that level, it’s devastating, devastating. Little cliques grow up in the church and they’re against this guy and that guy. It’s a disaster. Everybody pulling off their own little disciples. Listen, beloved, it’s a tremendously, absolutely, necessary, basic principle for the operation of the church that there be this plurality of Godly leaders. I say this to myself. I say it to the pastors of this church. I say it to the elders. Listen, your life is the major issue in this church. It is. And if Satan corrupts us and gets us pitted against each other or gets somebody in there who’s self-seeking and self-centered and wants his power base, it’ll devastate us; it’ll devastate us. And when those things come along, I pray God will remove them like some cancer and deal with them as he sees fit.
What is your responsibility? You know I hear things like oh I don’t agree with the elders. The elders did this and I don’t agree with the elders. Well what are the elders going to do about that? Well why did the elders do that? Well you know if you have some specific issue with someone, you go to them in love. But that kind of criticism and that kind of gossip that just runs around that questions things is unacceptable to God; it’s unacceptable. And let me show you why. I want to give you – I got to say one other thing. Elders make mistakes. Would any of you elders agree with that? Elders make mistakes. We all do. But you want to know something? We have 45 elders and every decision we make for this church is a decision that we have prayed over and made in unanimity. There’s less likelihood that 45 of them are going to be wrong, but sometimes it may be. But that is still no justification for criticism, antagonism, disrespect to these. In fact, the Bible says you better not make an accusation against an elder unless there are two or three witnesses present, because it’s so very serious. It also says an elder who sins is to be rebuked before the whole church, so the office is equally serious.
Look with me for a moment at 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verse 12. Now Paul is really pulling his heart out now. In verse 11, he says, “Comfort and edify one another.” Oh, this is his great desire that the church be built, that the church be built, that the church be built, not torn down. And he knows that in building or edifying means to build. He knows that there’s one thing important, and this is verse 12. “And we beseech you, brethren.” We beg you with the same intensity of Romans 12. “We beg you to know them who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.” Do you know your pastors and your elders? What do you mean by know? Well I know who they are. I go over there on that wall and see the pictures. That isn’t what we mean. To know implies an intimate loving relationship. Do you hold your elders in a loving relationship in your heart? When you think that there might be something they’ve missed, is your first reaction a loving, conscientious, deeply-concerned petition before almighty God that he might make it right if it is wrong, and if you’re wrong that he might let you know that? Or is it to just criticize, just talk about it?
I have never in my ministry heard as much talk in this church as I hear now about elders and about me. People call me on the phone, “Are you really leaving Grace Church? Is it true you’re leaving? Is it true you’re in great despair? Is it true this? Is it true that?” And I don’t even have any idea what they’re talking about. We don’t agree with this and we don’t agree with that. Listen, people, these men of God are doing what they can do energized by the Spirit of God in the midst of human frailty, and they’re not always going to do it exactly the way that you’d like it to be done, but you’re to love them for their labor. You’re to love them for their labor.
Then look at verse 13, “And you are to esteem them very highly in love, for their works’ sake, and be at peace among yourselves.” I mean you want to make sure that what you do in response to what they’re doing is to create peace in the fellowship. Peace. And when you find somebody that is not creating peace, instead of joining their rebellion, verse 14 says, “You better warn them that are unruly.” Listen, the great prayer of Christ for this church is peace, peace. And your response is to love these men and to know them and to esteem them highly for their works’ sake. You know if you only knew the responsibility and the burden they carry, then you are to be lovingly supportive of them, because God has called them to this task.
In Hebrews 13 – I want to close with this chapter, 13:7. Remember – this is a word to the people. “Remember them who have the rule over you. Remember them.” Do you do that? Do you remember your elders? Do you pray for them? Your pastors? Do you pray? “Remember them who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God.” You know whenever people say, “Oh you know so and so I don’t think he’s doing it right, or I don’t like the way he teaches, or I don’t agree with John MacArthur, I’m going to leave.” Have you forgotten? Oh, how soon we forget. Have you forgotten that they taught you the Word of God? I look back on my days as a young man and sitting under my father and whenever I’m prone to criticize my father, I remember that he taught me the Word of God. Whenever I’m prone to criticize some man under whose ministry I sat because I didn’t think something or the other wasn’t the way it ought to be, I remember that he taught me the Word of God, and that’s the greatest gift any man ever gave me. And if I’m prone to say about some teacher I had in seminary that everything isn’t the way it ought to be, I need to remember that he taught me the Word of God. And whenever you’re prone to say something that you ought not to one who has taught you the Word of God, you better remember the legacy he gave you.
And so he says, “Follow their faith,” in verse 7. “Pattern your life after those who taught you the Word of God. Who are you to condemn those who are your teachers, those who set the example?” And then verse 17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves.” You know what? That is a great word, beloved. We all submit to somebody. I mean we all submit to somebody. Look at this, we have to give an account. You say, “Well we submit to you, but who do you submit to?” God, Christ Jesus, the Lord. And others who work alongside of us. Everyone submits someplace. Learn to submit and obey. Why? That they may do it with joy and not with grief, for that’s unprofitable for you. I’ll tell you something very honestly, I have never in the world seen any profession with as many broken hearts as the pastorate. The most brokenhearted group of people in the world are pastors, and they have to minister with grief and not with joy so often because people do not obey and submit.
I’m not asking you to submit to my political views, nor is anybody else here. Nor to my whims or to my opinions, but to the Word of God. And the greatest grief in the world is people who won’t do that. Listen, when you’re prone to criticize your leaders, remember that they gave you the Word of God. Remember that they set an exemplary faith even with all of its failures. Remember that you’re called to submit and obey. Remember they’re accountable to God for their lives, and allow them at least the privilege of ministering in joy and not in grief. It’s enough anxiety in the world without misery coming to the leaders of God's people from the people they’re giving their life to lead. Pretty sad if the sheep make the shepherd miserable. I mean we accept it from some places, not from the people we’re given in life that God's given us.
Well, I really believe that this is an area where Satan has worked, trying to corrupt leadership, put the wrong people there, corrupt the ones that are there, get people who want a power base on their own, develop little cliques. And it’s a disaster, and it’s unscriptural. Listen, people, four-and-a-half years ago I said we have to stand on this basis. Eleven years ago when I came to this church in the first board meeting I ever sat in I said I want to say just one thing in the beginning, I believe in the plurality of Godly men leading this church. It’s always been that way, and it won’t change. As long as God gives me breath, I call you back to this principle. Be warned, beloved, that if Satan destroys us at this point, it’s a death blow. Now I wanted to get to point two, because point two I have much to say about, but I’m going to have to save it for tonight, so I trust you’ll be here.
Let’s pray. Father, we’ve covered a lot this morning, and in covering a little I thank you for the grace and patience for the people who stayed an extra five or ten minutes. I pray that you’ll bless them as they think on these things. In Christ’s name, Amen.
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